Daily Mail

‘Rapist’ traced af­ter 22 years kills him­self with his wife

- By James Mills

THE wife of a sus­pected rapist made a sui­cide pact with him af­ter a BBC Crime­watch ap­peal linked him to a se­ries of un­solved crimes dat­ing back 20 years.

Chris­tine Downes, 51, was ‘be­sot­ted’ with her hus­band Christo­pher and stood by him when he was jailed twice for at­tack­ing pros­ti­tutes.

But the prospect of a third jail term was too much for both of them.

Last Oc­to­ber, fear­ing DNA ev­i­dence would link him to three at­tacks on women in the mid-1980s, Downes and his wife, who were child­less, drove to a beauty spot, fed a hosepipe from their car ex­haust through a pas­sen­ger win­dow and gassed them­selves.

Four days ear­lier, fol­low­ing a tip-off prompted by the Crime­watch ap­peal, de­tec­tives had taken a saliva sam­ple from 54-year-old Downes.

The sam­ple would later be found to match DNA from the scene of a rob­bery in Sal­is­bury, Wilt­shire, in Novem­ber 1984.

A masked in­truder forced his way into the home of a preg­nant wo­man, at­tacked her with a knife and fled with cash. Foren­sic ev­i­dence linked that crime to two rapes in the area.

In the first, the fol­low­ing month, an at­tacker en­tered Old Manor Hospi­tal and raped a wo­man at knife­point and stole money.

Then in the sec­ond the next month a wo­man was raped at Old­stock Hospi­tal.

All three of the vic­tims were in their 20s at the time of their at­tacks.

The Crown Pros­e­cu­tion Ser­vice said that Downes would have stood trial with a ‘re­al­is­tic prospect of con­vic­tion’ if he had not killed him­self. Yes­ter­day, an inquest into the cou­ple’s deaths heard that Mrs Downes met her hus­band through a dat­ing agency in 1985 and they mar­ried the fol­low­ing year.

In 1987, Downes served six months in prison for slash­ing a pros­ti­tute with a knife and was jailed for four years in 1990 for as­sault­ing and at­tempt­ing to rape an­other pros­ti­tute.

Mrs Downes’s brother, Charles March, told the inquest in Winch­ester, Hamp­shire: ‘Chris­tine stood by him through­out. She was be­sot­ted and said the po­lice had stitched him up. When he was re­leased we had to act as if noth­ing had hap­pened.’ The inquest heard that Mrs Downes suf­fered from de­pres­sion and had at­tempted sui­cide two years ear­lier.

Downes, a de­liv­ery driver, slipped through the net dur­ing the orig­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the at­tacks be­cause he was not at home when of­fi­cers tried to in­ter­view him.

The case was re­opened last Septem­ber as part of Op­er­a­tion Alaskan – launched to re­turn to ‘cold cases’ af­ter ad­vances in DNA tech­nol­ogy.

An ap­peal on Crime­watch prompted 110 call­ers – one of whom named Downes. He ini­tially re­fused to give a saliva sam­ple but even­tu­ally agreed on Oc­to­ber 5. The cou­ple were found dead four days later in a car park on the Wher­well Es­tate a few miles from their flat in An­dover, Hamp­shire.

Coro­ner Gra­hame Short recorded ver­dicts of sui­cide by car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing.

Downes’s sis­ter said last night the cou­ple left a sui­cide note say­ing: ‘Sorry to have left you in this way. We could see no fu­ture for us any longer. We both came to this de­ci­sion to­gether.’

Mag­gie Hughes, 49, from Ames­bury, Wilt­shire, made a tear­ful apol­ogy for her brother’s crimes.

She said: ‘If it’s true he’s the rapist I apol­o­gise for him for do­ing it.’

j.mills@dai­ly­mail.co.uk

 ??  ?? ‘Be­sot­ted’: Chris­tine and Christo­pher Downes
‘Be­sot­ted’: Chris­tine and Christo­pher Downes

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